PG & E Record Flaws Exposed in San Bruno Explosion Investigation

Months after an explosion in a Pacific Gas & Electric pipeline killed eight people in San Bruno, maintenance documents released by the utility to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) show conflicting information about repair work performed along the line for decades, according to a report in the San Francisco Examiner.

The discrepancies concern the details of a 1998 leak a few miles away on the same high – pressure gas line. PG & E workers who repaired that leak reported problems and remedial steps different from those reported by the utility. In the wake of last year’s San Bruno explosion, the California Public Utilities Commission ordered the turnover of thousands of PG & E documents concerning safety, maintenance and repair records.

Comparing the documents to the utility’s previous statements, it appears that PG & E itself is yet to get a handle on the causes of leaks along its pipeline. For example, PG & E has previously stated that the pipeline was seamless, but the records show numerous welds and other repairs along lengthwise seams.

Complex Accident Investigation Depends on Careful Records Analysis

The San Bruno pipeline explosion case illustrates the complexity of investigating accidents involving public utilities. In civil actions for damages by the individuals and families most directly affected, it will be necessary to prove negligence on the part of the utility or its contractors in the design, installation or maintenance of the transmission line.

Because the most reliable and specific evidence of the causes of an accident will generally come from the records maintained by the utility itself, the failure to maintain proper maintenance and repair records can complicate the investigative efforts of plaintiffs’ lawyers as well as those of regulators. In some cases, however, proof of inadequate record – keeping practices by itself can help establish the plaintiff’s case for negligence.

Call Weber & Nierenberg for a Free Consultation: 866-288-6010

At the Bay Area law firm of Weber & Nierenberg, our experience with the investigation and proof of complex personal injury claims against corporate and public agency defendants can make the decisive difference in the outcome of a catastrophic personal injury or wrongful death case.

Contact us for a free consultation in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose or San Rafael if you need advice about your legal options in the aftermath of a public utility accident, a bus or train crash, or an accident on government property. You can also visit our website.

PG&E Releases List of Pipelines at Risk

Public Outcry and Pressure from Officials Results in List

Due to pressure from state regulators and public outcry, PG&E released its list of top 100 priority projects in Northern and Central California on Monday, September 20, 2010. Interestingly enough, the segment of 30-inch pipe that exploded in the San Bruno gas explosion was not on the list. Additionally, the list did not include a segment of the same pipeline to the North in South San Francisco that PG&E identified as a top priority in 2009. Although state regulators approved $4.87 million in 2008 for repairs to the line in question, PG&E spent the money on other projects only to ask the state for an additional $5 million in 2009 to complete the project. To date, however, work has not started on the project.

Corrosion Problems in the San Bruno Gas Explosion?

While state and federal officials have yet to identify a definitive cause for the San Bruno gas explosion that killed 4 people and destroyed as many as 37 homes, pipe corrosion as a likely culprit is a growing concern. If the pipe that exploded was weakened by corrosion, several questions arise: How many other neighborhoods are at risk from corroded pipes? Why didn’t PG&E act sooner if they knew they had a potential problem? Why weren’t funds allocated for repairs spent on intended projects and upgrades?

Direct Assessment – A Failed Method for Maintaining Gas Pipelines?

Part of the problem may be due to the method used by PG&E to assess the safety of its gas pipelines. PG&E uses a “direct assessment” technique to create an electronic mapping of a pipeline. When testing for problems, an electric current is sent through a pipeline while utility workers walk along the segment in question inserting in the ground above it sensors that look like ski poles. Theoretically, if the pipeline is in good shape, the sensors will register an electric signal. If a weakened signal is registered, corrosion is likely the cause, indicating the need to investigate further the integrity of the pipe being tested.

Safety experts and consultants have raised a number of concerns regarding the “direct assessment” method used by PG&E to test its pipelines. For instance, direct assessment and electronic mapping can only test for corrosion in those areas where poles can reach. Secondly, other things like stress and pressure can weaken pipes. In fact, Jim Hall, a former NTSB chairman, has said the method is too unreliable for identifying stress and pressure fractures and should not be used in high-density, urban areas.

Negligence on PG&E’s Part? What should have been done Differently?

As more light is shed on what PG&E did – and failed to do – questions are beginning to emerge as to whether or not they could have prevented the San Bruno gas explosion. Failure to implement best practices, allocate money for needed repairs and upgrades, or prioritize issues when people complained of smelling gas suggests PG&E may have acted negligently. As evidenced by their initial unwillingness to release their list of top priorities, PG&E and their attorneys may not be willing to share information with you or your insurer. Working with an experienced utility and personal injury attorney can ensure your rights and interests are protected.

Contact San Bruno Gas Explosion Attorneys at Weber & Nierenberg

At Weber & Nierenberg, we have represented numerous clients in cases involving burn injuries and carbon monoxide poisoning. We understand the issues involved when dealing with negligence on the part of a public utility – especially involving natural gas. For more information regarding our practice or to speak with one of our attorneys for a free consultation, call San Bruno gas explosion attorneys at Weber & Nierenberg at 415-788-3900 or toll free at1-866-288-6010 today. If you prefer, you can email us and a we will contact you

Suspected Section of Pipe in San Bruno Fire Known to be a Problem

Update on the San Bruno Natural Gas Explosion

New information in the San Bruno natural gas explosion that killed 4, left 3 missing, and injured others indicates the section of pipe that exploded was part of a line that ranked in the top 100 “highest risk line sections.” In fact, three years ago PG&E asked state regulators for permission to spend $4.87 million in order to replace a portion of pipe in South San Francisco that is part of the same line that exploded in San Bruno. Additionally, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, it was learned that last year, PG&E suggested upgrading a portion of the same line 8 miles south of where it exploded in San Bruno. At a cost of $13 million, PG&E wanted to upgrade the line along 32 miles of pipe, all the way to the south to Milpitas.

Upgrading the Gas Line – An Important Project Moved Down the List

Needless to say, neither project was started or completed. In fact, the South San Francisco project was moved down the list of priorities and the money allocated elsewhere. Currently, the project slated to upgrade the line to the south down to Milpitas is still waiting for approval by state regulators. As a result of last week’s explosion has led some critics of PG&E to wonder if the San Bruno explosion could have been avoided had either of these projects gone forward.

Although Peter Knudson, a spokesman for the NTSB, indicated the section of pipe that exploded was not “piggable” – that is, it was too narrow to allow camera and inspection equipment to be used on it – others have wondered whether or not other problems could have still been discovered. Mike Florio, a senior staff attorney for The Utility Reform Network, suggested if the work had been done problems might have been uncovered on the ageing gas pipeline. In fact, PG&E wanted to install new valves and make a number of upgrades along the pipeline in question so a pig could be used to inspect the safety of the line in the future.

Liability and Foreknowledge – Tough Questions for PG&E

While more information continues to come to light, PG&E may have had foreknowledge of certain dangers associated with the gas line that exploded, increasing their liability for the disaster. If they knew of certain kinds of dangers and hazards and did not act to remove them, they could be held liable for a failing to act on their duty of care towards homeowners in the area. In the case of the explosion, even though PG&E did not directly cause it by striking a line, they failed to act on their foreknowledge of dangers associated with the explosion. As a result, their failure to remove these dangers may constitute negligence on their part.

Contact San Bruno Gas Explosion Attorneys at Weber & Nierenberg

As investigators continue to determine what happened and why, it’s important to have an experienced team of personal injury attorneys who can protect your rights and interests in any discussions with insurance companies, investigators, or other lawyers. At Weber & Nierenberg we have represented numerous clients in cases involving carbon monoxide poisoning and burn injuries. We understand the issues involved when dealing with negligence on the part of a public utility – especially involving natural gas.

For more information regarding our practice or to speak with one of our attorneys for a free consultation, call San Bruno gas explosion attorneys at Weber & Nierenberg at 415-788-3900 today or email us and we will respond shortly.

Officials Investigate Segmented Pipe in San Bruno Explosion

Possible Negligence in San Bruno Fire

As officials from the NTSB and PG&E continue their investigation into the cause of the San Bruno gas explosion, state investigators have turned their attention to a segmented pipe that had been classified as “high risk” due to its proximity to homes in the area. Responsible for the deaths of at least four people, destroying and damaging several homes, and injuring 60 people, the cause of the San Bruno gas explosion isn’t yet clear. However, several people reported smelling gas in the area days before the explosion.

Section of Segmented Pipe Attracts Attention of Investigators

The section of pipe in question consists of 28-foot section that isn’t solid and seamless but rather appears to be made up of segments welded together. Concerned that a pipe made up of segmented sections is more prone to leaks, corrosion, and wear, the NTSB has asked PG&E to explain why they would use a pipe constructed in this way as part of a gas line. The pipeline that exploded appears to have been installed in 1956 when there were fewer homes in the area.

As population in the area increased, more homes were built nearer to the gas line, resulting in its “high risk” designation. As a result, the line was not outfitted with automatic shut-off valves but manual ones. Christopher Hart, Vice Chairman of the NTSB, has indicated they will be looking closely at what role the manual shut-off valve may have played in the explosion.

Liability, Injury Claims, and the San Bruno Gas Explosion

While investigators continue to determine the cause of the San Bruno natural gas explosion, it’s important for effected homeowners and injury victims to contact their insurance carrier and an attorney. Even though initial information indicates PG&E may have acted negligently in not properly responding to earlier reports of the smell of gas, someone digging in the area may have caused the explosion. As a result, responsibility for the San Bruno gas explosion may be attributable to a contractor, homeowner, PG&E or a combination of all three. Here, legal issues surrounding liability and subrogation can complicate issues and create unnecessary difficulties for injured people and homeowners trying to recover what they’ve lost.

Legal Representation – Protecting Your Interests and Rights

In order to protect your interests and rights, it’s important to work with an experienced team of personal injury attorneys who can ensure your insurance company honors all of their commitments in a timely, transparent manner. Additionally, taking photos of your property and documenting your injuries are also important should the need to go to trial arise at some point in the future.

With four office locations throughout the Bay Area – San Francisco, Oakland, San Rafael, and San Jose – the personal injury law office of Weber & Nierenberg has helped countless people and families recover compensation for injuries and property loss. We’ve represented a number of clients in cases involving carbon monoxide poisoning and understand the issues involved in the maintenance and installation of natural gas pipelines.

For more information regarding our practice or to speak with one of our attorneys for a free consultation, call San Bruno gas explosion attorneys at Weber & Nierenberg at 415-788-3900 or toll free at 1-866-288-6010 today. If you prefer you can email us and we will contact you shortly.

 
 
Locations & Contact Information
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Locations

1 Sansome Street, Suite 3500 San Francisco, CA 94104
map
P. 415-788-3900

1999 Harrison Street, Suite 600 Oakland, CA 94612
map
P. 510-663-6000

Read Our Blogs

The Motorcycle Airbag Jacket/Vest—Does It Really Work?

Will an Airbag Jacket/Vest Actually Protect You from Injury? It may surprise you to learn that the first patent application for a motorcycl... [Read More...]